What Is Cardio-Oncology & Cardiotoxicity?
The medical field has made incredible leaps and bounds in treating and managing virtually all cancers. Today, patients have better diagnostic tools and more treatment options than before. The result has been an improvement in life expectancy after cancer. However, while this is a wonderful development, patients may also be left with significant cardiovascular damage due to their cancer treatment.
Two of the staples in cancer treatment are radiation and chemotherapy. Both can be significantly detrimental to the heart and vascular system and damage healthy cells beyond the targeted cancer cells. This is particularly true for younger cancer patients who may experience cardiovascular damage during their developmental years and will require treatment for this damage either immediately or later in life.
Some of the damage that can occur after cancer treatment includes:
- Pericarditis, or inflammation of the heart
- Coronary artery disease
- Low blood pressure
- High blood pressure
- Valvular disease
How We Determine the Damage
We are aware of the potential damage that cancer treatments can cause. As such, your cardiologist and oncologist believe that the adverse effects on the heart are outweighed by the positive impact of the cancer treatment. To stay abreast of any changes that occur in the heart during cancer treatment, we use strain imaging which monitors the size of the heart, the heart’s rhythm, and its ability to pump blood around the body efficiently. We may prescribe cardioprotective therapies or change existing medications if we notice any changes.
What You Can Do to Help
It will be challenging, especially with a cancer diagnosis, to embark on an improved lifestyle of better diet, weight loss, quitting smoking, and exercising. However, these changes can help the heart cope with chemotherapy and radiation. Just remind yourself that a healthy body will improve the odds of maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system and even beating cancer.
The Silver Lining and Next Steps
While cardiotoxicity is a genuine concern, there is some hope that many of the changes to the heart due to cancer treatment can be reversed in time and with a focus on health and wellness. Of course, you will consult with your cardiologist to understand what you can do to protect your heart and ultimately get it back to tiptop shape.